Water demand for electricity in deep decarbonisation scenarios: a multi-model assessment

Abstract

This study assesses the effects of deep electricity decarbonisation and shifts in the choice of power plant cooling technologies on global electricity water demand, using a suite of five integrated assessment models. We find that electricity sector decarbonisation results in co-benefits for water resources primarily due to the phase-out of water-intensive coal-based thermoelectric power generation, although these co-benefits vary substantially across decarbonisation scenarios. Wind and solar photovoltaic power represent a win-win option for both climate and water resources, but further expansion of nuclear or fossil- and biomass-fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage may result in increased pressures on the water environment. Further to these results, the paper provides insights on the most crucial factors of uncertainty with regards to future estimates of water demand. These estimates varied substantially across models in scenarios where the effects of decarbonisation on the electricity mix were less clear-cut. Future thermal and water efficiency improvements of power generation technologies and demand-side energy efficiency improvements were also identified to be important factors of uncertainty. We conclude that in order to ensure positive effects of decarbonisation on water resources, climate policy should be combined with technology-specific energy and/or water policies.

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Acknowledgements

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement no. 308329 (ADVANCE). We would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

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Correspondence to I. Mouratiadou.

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Mouratiadou, I., Bevione, M., Bijl, D.L. et al. Water demand for electricity in deep decarbonisation scenarios: a multi-model assessment. Climatic Change 147, 91–106 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-2117-7

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